Bluetooth is a wireless technology used for exchange of data over short distances between devices such as cell phones, personal computers, televisions and radios, and other sound devices. It also presents some helpful alternatives for the hard of hearing.
While the information in this article is aimed at those who have hearing aids equipped with a t-coil, hard-of-hearing people can still benefit from the products described by listening via headphones or ear buds to help boost the sound. The advantage of listening with t-coil equipped aids, however, is that the sound is transmitted directly to both ears at a level programmed specifically by the audiologist for their individual hearing loss.
What’s a T-Coil?
As the name implies, t-coils are simply tiny coils of wire mounted inside the hearing aids. They are also referred to as telephone coils, tele-coils, audio coils or t-switches. If you’re getting hearing aids for the first time or are in the market for new ones, I encourage you to talk to your audiologist about equipping them with a manual t-coil. While auto t-coils can help with telephone connections, manual ones are powerful enough to connect to a Bluetooth neckloop, whose advantages I describe below. If you have aids and do not know if they have t-coils, call your audiologist. You might have t-coils already and just need them activated.
Hiding in Plain Sight
You’ve probably seen business people walking down the street or sitting in the airport, talking with no phone in site. Their cell phones are most likely in their pockets, purses or briefcases. Depending on the size, you may or may not see the earpieces themselves, which connect wirelessly to cell phones via Bluetooth technology.
As a person with a profound hearing loss, I too carry on a phone conversation with my phone in my pocket. However, my “earpiece” is my hearing aid, and I wear a Bluetooth neck loop. The loop is equipped with a wire that can send sound waves to my t-coil equipped aid. A small device connected to the end of the loop is paired with a Bluetooth enabled cell phone. (Nearly all cell phones made after 2007 are Bluetooth compatible.)
What Can This Loop Do?
A Bluetooth neck loop can be paired with other Bluetooth compatible devices, such as any standard Bluetooth enabled cordless phone, any radio device that has a standard Bluetooth transmitter, certain iPods or MP3 players, and Bluetooth enabled computers. With this equipment, those of you with hearing loss can more readily enjoy phone conversations on a land line, music, and movies played on your computer. And if your TV or other sound system isn’t Bluetooth compatible, you can hook a Bluetooth transmitter up to it.
Recently a friend excitedly showed me her Christmas present – a small speaker about the size of a Pringles potato chips can. She turned it on, connected her computer’s Internet to a music website, pressed the Bluetooth icon on her computer, and music poured out of this speaker… wirelessly. If I’d been wearing my neck loop, I could have easily paired it to the speaker, turned on my t-coils, and enjoyed the music in both my ears at a sound level designed for my particular hearing loss.
I’ve checked out many different Bluetooth neck loops on the Internet, and if you’re interested in pursuing this method of hearing phones, music, TV and more, I urge you to do the same. One that impressed me is the “Clearsounds Quattro Amplified Bluetooth Neckloop.” It’s small and has earphones for the hard-of-hearing person without t-coil enabled aids. Clearsounds also has a complementary product called the QLink for converting a non-Bluetooth enabled device to Bluetooth. The price wasn’t bad either, ranging from $108 from one company for the neckloop alone, to $159 from another company for the neckloop, earphones and transmitter. So shop around and be sure to find out about returns and possible restocking fees, as well as shipping and handling charges, before making your final decision.
Everybody’s Doing It!
As described on http://www.bluetooth.com, another advantage of Bluetooth technology is that the stigma once associated with wearing visible electronic devices has nearly disappeared. Today, many wear earpieces, headphones, and other devices for hands-free cell phone, portable game, and MP3 player use. These accessories have become cool, with attractive colors and flashy styles that are meant to be seen. This trend has helped ease hearing aid wearers’ concerns about standing out or looking odd because of wearing something on or in their ears.
Take It Outside!
Speaking of wearing something on your ears… if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, check out the colorful protective sleeves for your hearing aids at http://www.gearforears.com. I believe my aids will sport a pair next time I embark on a canoe trip!
And if we’re still experiencing wintry weather when you read this, or to help prepare yourself for next winter, check out this blog on hearing aids and WINTER – http://www.miassisttech.org/mdrcat/index.php/frostbite-or-feedback-hearing-aids-in-winter/!
Carol Rose is a writer/photographer living in Grand Marais. She also writes for the Grand Marais Pilot and Pictured Rocks Review. With the advent of spring, she is looking forward to hiking, canoeing and driving her 1995 Jeep on the back roads of the U.P.
More to Consider When Purchasing a Hearing Aid:
Some aids are too small to allow a t-coil to be added, so make sure the ones you’re considering are large enough for this option. I also suggest making sure your t-coil has both the “t-coil” setting and a “t-coil/mic” setting. Both allow you to hear information direct to your aid, but the “t-coil” setting shuts out other sounds, while the “t-coil/mic” setting allows you also to hear additional things at the same time, such as conversation in the room and, most importantly, traffic sounds when you are driving.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.